A pollination biologist from Stellenbosch University in South Africa is using quantum dots to track the fate of individual pollen grains. This is breaking new ground in a field of research that has been hampered by the lack of a universal method to track pollen for over a century.
In an article published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution this week, Dr Corneile Minnaar describes this novel method, which will enable pollination biologists to track the whole pollination process from the first visit by a pollinator to its endpoint – either successfully transferred to another flower’s stigma or lost along the way.
Despite over two hundred years of detailed research on pollination, Minnaar says, researchers do not know for sure where most of the microscopically tiny pollen grains actually land up once they leave flowers: “Plants produce massive amounts of pollen, but it looks like more than 90% of it never reaches stigmas. For the tiny fraction of pollen grains that make their way to stigmas, the journey is often unclear–which pollinators transferred the grains and from where?”
Starting in 2015, Minnaar decided to tread where many others have thus far failed, and took up the challenge through his PhD research in the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University (SU).
“Most plant species on earth are reliant on insects for pollination, including more than 30% of the food crops we eat. With insects facing rapid global decline, it is crucial that we understand which insects are important pollinators of different plants–this starts with tracking pollen,” he explains.
He came upon the idea for a pollen-tracking method after reading an article on the use of quantum dots to track cancer cells in rats (https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt994). Quantum dots are semiconductor nanocrystals that are so small, they behave like artificial atoms. When exposed to UV light, they emit extremely bright light in a range of possible colours. In the case of pollen grains, he figured out that quantum dots with “fat-loving” (lipophilic) ligands would theoretically stick to the fatty outer layer of pollen grains, called pollenkitt, and the glowing colours of the quantum dots can then be used to uniquely “label” pollen grains to see where they end up.
The next step was to find a cost-effective way to view the fluorescing pollen grains under a field dissection microscope. At that stage Minnaar was still using a toy pen from a family restaurant with a little UV LED light that he borrowed from one of his professors. “I decided to design a fluorescence box that can fit under a dissection microscope. And, because I wanted people to use this method, I designed a box that can easily be 3D-printed at a cost of about R5,000, including the required electronic components.” (view video at https://youtu.be/YHs925F13t0
[or you can scroll down to the bottom of this post]
So far, the method and excitation box have proven itself as an easy and relatively inexpensive method to track individual pollen grains: “I’ve done studies where I caught the insects after they have visited the plant with quantum-dot labelled anthers, and you can see where the pollen is placed, and which insects actually carry more or less pollen.” But the post-labelling part of the work still requires hours and hours of painstaking counting and checking: “I think I’ve probably counted more than a hundred thousand pollen grains these last three years,” he laughs.
As a postdoctoral fellow in the research group of Prof Bruce Anderson in the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University, Minnaar will continue to use the method to investigate the many unanswered questions in this field.
Today (May 7, 2019), I’m writing up a Canadian science hodge podge of a post.
From a sheep shearing festival in May to summer camps for kids: Ingenium’s Canadian science museums
Ingenium, for those who don’t know, is the corporate ‘parent’ for the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum. Confusingly, the ‘parent’ was once called the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC).
I recently featured the da Vinci exhibit (May 2 – September 2, 2019) being held at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in a May 1, 2019 posting (scroll down about 70% of the way). It seems now it’s time for the other two.
Canada Agriculture and Food Museum and its sheep (May) and kids’ summer camps
The Sheep Shearing Festival is being held in Ottawa on Victoria Day weekend but only on two days of the weekend, Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19, 2019. Here’s more from festival webpage,
Sheep Shearing Festival
When: May 18, 2019 – May 19, 2019 Times: 9:30 am – 4:00 pm Fee: Included with admission Language: Bilingual
The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum presents the annual Sheep Shearing Festival. Visitors will be able to learn all about wool by participating in various activities and demonstrations. Visitors of all ages can attend sheep shearing, sheep herding and sheepdog agility demonstrations, as well as meeting an alpaca. They can also learn about carding and knitting, all important steps in the transformation of a raw fleece into wool. They can also see a craftsman doing traditional finger-weaving or spin the quiz wheel and test their knowledge about fibers from various sources. Visitors can enjoy cooking demonstrations that feature goat cheese as well as watch a classic movie. Keep an eye out for Little Bo Peep, who still needs help finding her sheep!
Note: The Festival is held on Saturday and Sunday but not the Monday of the long weekend. Regular May demonstrations will be in effect on Monday.
Activities: Sheep Shearing Demonstration The Art of Leather Sheepdog Agility Demonstration- weather permitting Sheep Herding Demonstration Goat Cheese and Herb Biscuits Family Movie Presentation Shawville 4-H Club Demonstration Felt Making Wool Carding Meet a Lamb and its Family Meet Yanni the Alpaca Children’s Craft Animal or Plant?” Quiz Finger Weaving Afternoon Milking Local Fiber artists and mini market Food Services ($) Wagon Rides ($) –weather permitting
With summer fast approaching, the moment has arrived for us to shear our sheep. Visitors can attend a sheep shearing demonstration, where they will see a professional sheep shearer at work as one of our dynamic guides explains the entire process
The Art of Leather(ongoing activity with a break between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m.)
There is more to leather than durable boots and stylish handbags – leather is a fascinating by-product! With expert artisan Lynn McNabb, visitors will be able to see how leather is prepared and how it can be ultimately crafted into beautiful and functional items.
Visitors will be enthralled by this demonstration performed by members of the “Ottawa Valley Border Collie Club”, who will captivate your attention with their Border Collies, who race through a course filled with obstacles of all sorts.
At this demonstration, visitors will see a shepherd and his specially trained dogs in action, as they work as a team to herd a flock of sheep.
Goat Cheese and Herb Biscuits (ongoing)
Did you know that goat’s milk is the most consumed milk in the world? Try a sample of our delicious goat cheese and herb biscuits.
Family Movie Presentation(English showing at 10:00 a.m. and French showing at 1:00 p.m.)
Join us for a classic movie presentation of the beloved film Babe. There will be popcorn for purchase and all proceeds go to the museum’s Youth Fund.
Shawville 4-H Club Demonstration (9:45 a.m., 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.)
Watch as the Shawville 4-H Club demonstrates how they train their 4-H farm animals and how they get them ready for showing and how they are evaluated. Meet and greet the animals and their trainers in between the demonstrations. This is a fun educational activity not to be missed!
Felt Making (ongoing activity)
With the help of a guide, visitors can make felt from a piece of sheep’s wool while discovering the history and science of the world’s oldest fabric.
Wool Carding (ongoing activity)
At this station, visitors can learn about carding, an important step in the transformation of wool. They can even try their hand at this activity with a pair of carders!
Meet a Lamb and its Family (ongoing activity)
Meet the sheep family and see who guards the sheep!
Meet Yanni the Alpaca (ongoing activity)
Visitors will meet an alpaca and learn all about this fascinating animal. They will learn about their life cycle, the reason we raise them on farms, as well as the particularities of their fleece.
Children’s Craft (ongoing activity)
Come join the fun with a themed sheep craft to take home.
“Animal or Plant?” Quiz (ongoing activity)
At this station, visitors will spin the wheel and test their knowledge about fibres from various sources. Will they know if the fibre comes from an animal or a plant?
Finger Weaving (ongoing activity)
Visitors will be able to see a craftsman doing some finger-weaving – a traditional craft that is used to make all sorts of products, including the famous arrow sash!
Afternoon Milking (4 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.)
The milking of the museum’s dairy cows takes place twice daily. Over the course of this demonstration, visitors will be impressed by the technologies used in modern dairying as they see the herdspeople milk the entire herd. A museum guide will be on site to explain the process and to answer questions.
Also… Local Fiber artists and mini market (ongoing activity) Willow Lane Alpacas Apple Road Goat Milk Soaps Janet Tulloch, artist Rebecca Dufton, artist SweetLegs Orleans with Sania
Food Services ($) The Hot Potato Company will be on site to offer food services.
Wagon Rides ($) (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.) weather permitting! Enjoy a tour through the fields of the Central Experimental Farm on the Tally-Ho wagon.
Summer camp at the farm
A series of week long summer camps at the Agriculture Museum’s famr are open to children whose parents thought to book ahead. The season starts on Monday, June 24, 2019 and ends Friday, August 23, 2019. Here’s more from the Summer Camps at the Farm webpage,
Bring the country to kids in the city with fascinating summer camps at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum. Hands-on activities educate children while they care for the museum’s farm animals and gardens, cook foods, make crafts, and play games
Additional Information Camps must be pre-booked. A child is not allowed to be registered for more than one week of camp. However, a second week may be booked if this camp is Sprouting Chefs culinary camp. Ingenium reserves the right to cancel the registrations for any child booked into more than one agricultural camp at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum. Children must be the required age by August 31, 2019. Counsellor-to-child ratio is a minimum of 1 to 8. One snack will be provided daily and lunch on Friday. Each child receives a camp T-shirt. You may cancel your registration up to two (2) weeks before the start of your camp week. There is a $30 fee for cancellations. No refunds will be issued for cancellations after the two week cut-off.
You may want to register soon as some the camp sessions are already sold out.
Canada Aviation and Space Museum features music and science summer camps
They have a shorter season running from July 2 – August 23, 2019 and, yes, one session is already sold out. Here’s more from the Music & Aviation Day Camp webpage,
The Canada Aviation and Space Museum is pleased to collaborate with Sonart Music School to offer weekly Music and Aviation Summer Day Camps at the Museum, from July 2nd to August 23rd, 2019.
Each day includes music lessons, aerodynamics demonstrations, outdoor activities and the children also perform in a concert at the end of the week!
Campers take off on a full flight of activities artfully balanced between music and aviation. Children become familiar with aeronautical concepts, including the principles of flight, and are introduced to various musical instruments such as drums, guitar, piano, voice, and violin. Your child will be challenged to push his or her limits through fascinating activities and captivating projects.
Go here to register. You can find out more about Sonart Music School here. Good luck with getting into the events and registering for the camp sessions you’d like!
Bee hygiene at the University of British Columbia (UBC)
After the news about a draft report* from the United Nations claiming that up to one million species are at risk due to humans (see April 23, 2019 news item on phys.org for more about the draft report), I thought this UBC research news might sound a more hopeful note.
There are parts of this video, which I found strangely hypnotic,
While poor hygiene may be a deal breaker in human relationships, in bee colonies it can be a matter of life and death.
Which is why, for two weeks in May, a lab at UBC runs a high-tech matchmaking service for bees: swipe right for hygienic bees, swipe left if not.
“Certain worker bees exhibit something called ‘hygienic behaviour,’ where they recognize nest mates that are infected by a pest or pathogen and remove them from the colony,” said Leonard Foster, a biochemist and professor at the Michael Smith Laboratories at UBC. “This is one way that bees defend against the varroa mite, which is typically responsible for about 40 per cent of Canadian colonies that are lost every year.”
According to Foster, the varroa mite is currently one of the most important factors in bee health, but only about five per cent of bees exhibit the defensive hygienic behaviour.
“We believe hygienic bees have a certain class of protein involved in detecting odours associated with pest and pathogen infections,” said Foster, who is also director of the PCF. “These odours trigger a grooming impulse, with the odour molecule binding to a protein and sending a signal.”
Beekeepers from across the Lower Mainland ship bees to the lab to be analyzed ahead of the spring swarm period, when bees mate and new honey bee colonies form
The researchers study the bees’ antennae, which contain the protein that can signal hygienic behaviour. Because all worker bees in a hive have a single mother, the scientists can gauge the state of the whole hive by looking at a few of these bees.
Once Foster’s team identifies the most hygienic colonies, beekeepers bring new queen bees and male ‘drones,’ raised from those colonies to hives isolated on Bowen Island, where they will mate and produce a new generation of bees.
“This isn’t genetic modification – we aren’t changing the structure of the bees,” said Foster. “We merely finding the most hygienic ones from the natural populations, and allowing beekeepers to match queen bees with the most appropriate candidates.”
Protein analysis is more accurate than behavioural observations and this type of research allows for more effective and faster selective breeding.
“Our research shows that you can predict the behaviour of specific colonies by understanding their protein structures better,” said Foster. “We don’t need to painstakingly monitor colonies wondering if they are going to be hygienic or not. We hope this will provide beekeepers a tool that will make their lives easier.”
And, because I love bee beards,
*ETA May 7, 2019 at 1440 PDT: There’s even more recent information about disappearing species in a summary released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): “IPBES: Nature’s dangerous decline ‘unprecedented,’ species extinction rates ‘accelerating’; Current global response insufficient; ‘transformative changes’ needed to restore and protect nature; opposition from vested interests can be overcome for public good; most comprehensive assessment of its kind; 1 million species threatened with extinction.” A May 6, 2019 IPBES news release on EurrekAlert.
Tom McFadden has debuted the first video of this year’s Science Rap Academy. Seventh and eighth grade students at the Nueva School prepare a music video based on a science concept, usually reworking a rap or hip-hop song.
There are many posts on this blog about Tom McFadden and his various science rap projects (many of them courtesy of David Bruggeman/Pasco Phronesis). Here’s one of the more recent ones, a May 30, 2014 posting.
Getting back to David’s April 17, 2015 news, he also mentions the latest installment of “Science goes to the movies” which features three movies (Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Lazarus Effect, and Them!) and has Neil deGrasse Tyson as a guest. David has embedded the episode on his blog. One brief comment, it’s hard to tell how familiar Tyson or the hosts, Faith Salie and Dr. Heather Berlin are with the history of the novel or science. But the first few minutes of the conversation suggest that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the first novel to demonize scientists. (I had the advantage of not getting caught up in their moment and access to search engines.) Well, novels were still pretty new in Europe and I don’t believe that there were any other novels featuring scientists prior to Mary Shelley’s work.
A brief history of novels: Japan can lay claim to the first novel, The Tale of Genji, in the 11th century CE, (The plot concerned itself with aristocratic life and romance.) Europe and its experience with the novel is a little more confusing. From the City University of New York, Brooklyn site, The Novel webpage,
The term for the novel in most European languages is roman, which suggests its closeness to the medieval romance. The English name is derived from the Italian novella, meaning “a little new thing.” Romances and novelle, short tales in prose, were predecessors of the novel, as were picaresque narratives. Picaro is Spanish for “rogue,” and the typical picaresque story is of the escapades of a rascal who lives by his wits. The development of the realistic novel owes much to such works, which were written to deflate romantic or idealized fictional forms. Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1605-15), the story of an engaging madman who tries to live by the ideals of chivalric romance, explores the role of illusion and reality in life and was the single most important progenitor of the modern novel.
The novel broke from those narrative predecessors that used timeless stories to mirror unchanging moral truths. It was a product of an intellectual milieu shaped by the great seventeenth-century philosophers, Descartes and Locke, who insisted upon the importance of individual experience. They believed that reality could be discovered by the individual through the senses. Thus, the novel emphasized specific, observed details. It individualized its characters by locating them precisely in time and space. And its subjects reflected the popular eighteenth-century concern with the social structures of everyday life.
The novel is often said to have emerged with the appearance of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). Both are picaresque stories, in that each is a sequence of episodes held together largely because they happen to one person. But the central character in both novels is so convincing and set in so solid and specific a world that Defoe is often credited with being the first writer of “realistic” fiction. The first “novel of character” or psychological novel is Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740-41), an epistolary novel (or novel in which the narrative is conveyed entirely by an exchange of letters). It is a work characterized by the careful plotting of emotional states. Even more significant in this vein is Richardson’s masterpiece Clarissa (1747-48). Defoe and Richardson were the first great writers in our literature who did not take their plots from mythology, history, legend, or previous literature. They established the novel’s claim as an authentic account of the actual experience of individuals.
As far as I’m aware none of these novels are concerned with science or scientists for that matter. After all, science was still emerging from a period where alchemy reined supreme. One of the great European scientists, Isaac Newton (1642-1726/7), practiced alchemy along with his science. And that practice did not die with Newton.
With those provisos in mind, or not, do enjoy the movie reviews embedded in David’s April 17, 2015 news. One final note,David in his weekly roundup of science on late night tv noted that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s late night tv talk show, Star Talks, debuted April 20, 2015, the episode can be seen again later this week while deGrasse Tyson continues to make the rounds of other talk shows to publicize his own.
Vive Nano recently received a 2011 Responsible Care Performance Award from the American Chemistry Council. From the May 11, 2011 news release,
The Responsible Care Performance Award recognizes those member companies who excelled at helping ACC meet industry-wide safety and product stewardship targets. ACC Responsible Care award winners qualify based on exemplary performance, and are selected by an external expert committee. Other award winners this year include Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, ExxonMobil Chemical Company, Nova Chemicals and Honeywell.
At this point I want to make a distinction between Vive Nano’s acceptance of the award and the award’s credibility and to make a personal confession. First the confession, I don’t probe too deeply when I win award and I probably should. Now onto the issue of an award’s credibility. Something in the news release caught my attention,
“Responsible Care is the chemical industry’s commitment to sustainability, enabling us to enhance environmental protection and public health, as well as improve worker safety and plant security,” said Greg Babe, chair of ACC’s Board Committee on Responsible Care and president and CEO of Bayer Corp. [emphases mine]
One of the Bayer companies (Babe is the Chief Executive Officer of the parent corporation), Bayer CropScience has a product used as a pesticide which has been strongly implicated as a factor in the calamitous collapse of bee colonies in North America and elsewhere. From a Dec. 14, 2010 article by Ariel Schwartz for Fast Company,
Beekeepers across the U.S. are reporting record low honey crops as their bees fail to make it through the winter. One-third of American agriculture, which relies on bee pollination, is at stake. And the problem may be at least partially attributable to clothianidin, a Bayer-branded pesticide used on corn and other crops.
But as we revealed last week, the EPA knew that clothianidin could be toxic when the product came on the market in 2003. So why is it still on the market?
The bee-toxic pesticide problem can be traced back to 1994, when the first neonicotinoid pesticide (Imidacloprid) was released. Neonicotinoids like imidacloprid and clothianidin disrupt the central nervous system of pest insects, and are supposed to be relatively non-toxic to other animals. But there’s a problem: The neonicotinoids coat plant seeds, releasing insecticides permanently into the plant. The toxins are then released in pollen and nectar–where they may cause bees to become disoriented and die.
The EPA first brought up the link between clothianidin and bees before the pesticide’s release in February 2003. The agency originally planned to withhold registration of the pesticide because of concerns about toxicity in bees, going so far as to suggest that the product come with a warning label (PDF): “This compound is toxic to honey bees. The persistance [sic] of residues and the expression clothianidin in nectar and pollen suggest the possibility of chronic toxic risk to honey bee larvae and the eventual stability of the hive.”
But in April 2003, the EPA decided to give Bayer conditional registration. Bayer could sell the product and seed processors could freely use it, with the proviso that Bayer complete a life cycle study of clothianidin on corn by December 2004. Bayer was granted an extension until May 2005 (and permission to use canola instead of corn in its tests), but didn’t complete the study until August 2007. The EPA continued to allow the sale of clothianidin, and once the Bayer study finally came out, it was flawed.
There’s more about the bees and Bayer both in this article and in a Dec. 17, 2010 article by Schwartz for Fast Company.
Bayer CropScience was recently made aware of an unauthorized release [emphasis mine] from within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of a document regarding the seed treatment product, clothianidin, which is sold in the United States corn market. Bayer CropScience disagrees with the claims by some environmental groups against this product and we believe these are incorrect and unwarranted with regard to honey bee concerns.
The study referenced in the document is important research, conducted by independent experts and published in a major peer-reviewed scientific journal. The long-term field study conducted in accordance with Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) by independent experts using clothianidin-treated seed showed that there were no effects on bee mortality, weight gain, worker longevity, brood development, honey yield and over-winter survival. The EPA reviewed and approved the study protocol prior to its initiation and it was peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of Economic Entomology*. Upon reviewing the results of the long-term trial, the Agency noted the study as “scientifically sound and satisfies the guideline requirements for a field toxicity test with honey bees.
According to Schwartz, the ‘unauthorized release’ was in response to a freedom of information (FOI) query.
If the product is suspected of being unsafe, why not make the data available for analysis by respected scientists who are not associated with Bayer in any way? Given the magnitude of the problem, shouldn’t the company go above and beyond? And, what does this mean for its commitment to the American Chemistry Council’s Responsible Care program?
The issue is not Vive Nano; it’s the credibility of the award. For example, the Nobel Peace Prize is funded from the proceeds of a fortune derived from the invention of dynamite, amongst other things. (I was not able to confirm that Alfred Nobel was a munitions manufacturer although I’ve heard that any number of times.) Does the source for the funding matter or has the Nobel Peace Prize accrued credibility over the years from the reputations of the award recipients?
Could Vive Nano and companies like it (assuming they are genuinely living up to the standards of the Responsible Care program) possibly give the award credibility over time?
There you have it. An award is not just an award; it is a complex interplay between the recipient, the organization giving the award, and reputation.